When WBO heavyweight titlist Lamon Brewster takes on Andrew Golota Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago, he'll be doing so with a new trainer.
About a year ago, Brewster shocked the world by stopping Wladimir Klitschko in five rounds with Shadeed Suluki in his corner.
It was one of the feel-good stories of 2004, two protégés of the late Bill Slayton – who died at 81 just a few months earlier – keeping alive his memory while continuing the legacy of his Broadway Gym in inner-city Los Angeles. During all the hysteria that transpired right after Brewster's stoppage of Klitschko, Suluki and Brewster embraced in the center of the ring.
In an often harsh sport, it was a touching moment.
But, since this is boxing, the story has far from a fairy-tale ending. Five months later Brewster struggled mightily against unknown Kali Meehan.
Brewster was the recipient of an unpopular split decision, and a few days later the Brewster-Suluki union was dissolved, having lasted just a bit longer than a
Britney Spears marriage.
"I'm going to try my best not to say anything to step on anybody's toes," Brewster said when asked about the split. "But there were some problems that existed in communications, and sometimes egos get involved when you're dealing with
men and it just creates problems."
Suluki said: "To make a long story short, me myself personally, I actually resigned after the Meehan fight. That was a poor showing, and it wasn't the
way I wanted him to fight. So in camp we had our differences, too many chiefs, not enough Indians."
So what happened in between the Klitschko and Meehan fights?
"He would probably say this, too," Suluki said. "Our camp, it was hard.
It was very hard, and like I said, that's not the way I wanted him to fight.
Hasim Rahman took our blueprint and it worked perfectly.
"I think there were forces against me, and that made my job really hard or nearly impossible to do. Maybe he lost confidence in what I was trying to
get him to do or whatever, but it shouldn't have been that way."
It's a familiar storyline in boxing: A trainer and boxer win a title together, and then they split for myriad reasons. Then another trainer is brought in. This time, it's the highly decorated Jesse Reid, whose resumé includes championship runs with Roger Mayweather, Johnny Tapia and Orlando Canizales.
For Brewster, it's a reunion. He worked with Reid in the early '90s as an amateur at the Westminster Gym in Orange County.
"It's great to be working [again] with Jesse Reid because Jesse's a great motivator, and the thing I realized at this age and this point in the game for my career is that I don't need a trainer anymore," Brewster said. "I know how to fight – I just need a motivator."
In Reid, he's getting exactly that, an upbeat personality who is one of the sport's best ring jockeys.
"Man," Brewster said, "Jesse's a tremendous motivator. He's really shown me. ... I feel great about myself because he's allowed me to go beyond even my own expectations of what I thought I was capable of doing."
And perhaps this is exactly the tonic Brewster needs. The rap on him in the past has been that he's too nice a guy for the sport – and you know where they say nice guys finish – and that he's insecure about his own talents and abilities. Reid is the type of psychologist who can get boxers to believe they're capable of doing things they didn't think they could achieve.
You can teach a guy how to jab and hook, but if you can't get him to approach an opponent with the confidence of, say, a Godzilla or a King Kong, it might all go for naught.
"I think Lamon has a tremendous amount of power and also talent," Reid said. "I think what happened is that he tried to outthink himself sometimes. Instead of going on the attack, he waits and waits and waits and tries to load up with his punches. We need to be a fighter first and a boxer second."
Reid sums up Brewster's seminal flaw in a nutshell. At his worst, Brewster seems to put his punches on a layaway plan instead of being active and aggressive like most punchers. At times, it seems as though he goes through an identity crisis. He boxes when he should be fighting.
"He just needs to be who's inside of him," Reid said.
"Instead of getting hit and woken up, just wake up before you get hurt. That's the key, and I think if Lamon trains that way, which he will, and learns that type of attack, he can fight anybody. He's that skilled."
The Meehan fight revealed the worst of Brewster in a 12-round microcosm. For long stretches, he simply would not let his hands go. He fought without a sense of urgency or passion. He was nearly stopped in the eighth frame by a barrage of Meehan punches and was lucky to escape with his WBO belt.
This fight seemed to cement his reputation in the eyes of many pundits – that Brewster was a "one-hit wonder" who was lucky to have beaten Klitschko
"I just let people down," Brewster said, "because everybody [had] high expectations of me after beating Klitschko, and then to come in and give a lackluster fight against
Meehan ... and then [people only saw] what the underdog [did], because Kali got up for that fight, and I allowed him to get his confidence and everything. So I made it a hard fight on myself. But it isn't a mistake I'll make again."
Brewster not only suffered a bit of a hangover from the euphoria of the Klitschko victory but also found it hard to face a guy he had bonded with during the camp leading up to that fight. Meehan had served as one of Brewster's sparring partners.
"Just winning a title," Brewster said, "and not really absorbing what it meant to be a heavyweight champion, and then having to turn it around and then fight a guy
you're cool with – I just think it kinda caught me off guard, to be honest
"I don't know, I just didn't fight to my full potential, and I felt I let everybody down, and I'm just looking forward to May 21, to erasing any doubt people had about me."
Golota, who hails from Chicago (which has a large Polish population), should have the distinct home-canvas advantage. But then, Golota has succumbed to the pressures of high expectations in the past. Could this work against him and play right into Brewster's heavy hands?
"Oh, yeah, the pressure's definitely on him, and sometimes the worst thing on a fighter is pressure because it can make you make mistakes, it can make you get tired, it can make you try too hard," Brewster says. "So it's really to my advantage, though it is in his backyard. It's to my advantage because he's fighting for a world title, which he feels the pressure to fight for for the fourth time, and [it's] in his backyard.
"Well, maybe he's overtrained; all types of demons could be attacking him right now. The pressure of, 'oh, this is my fourth shot and I'm fighting here in Chicago,' so hopefully it all works to my favor."
But it would help if Brewster forced the action and made Golota feel the pressure.
Reid's advice? "Be the boss," the veteran trainer said. "Let him know what it's all about and bring his heart rate up so big he can't handle it."
Brewster said that, unlike last September, he is in the proper mind-set to execute such a plan of action. "I had a lot of problems, mental problems, as far as camp. We had some
problems we weren't able to iron out.
"It was like I didn't get the true motivation and game plan I needed for the fight, so the focus wasn't there. But this fight, we had Jesse Reid coming aboard, really ironing out all the problems prior to coming to camp, working hard and not cutting any corners."